Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Reel Nebraska

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Reel Nebraska

Article excerpt

The documentary makers behind The Brandon Teena Story captured the actual people portrayed in Boys Don't Cry--including Brandon

When camerawoman-producer Susan Muska heard about the rape and murder of Brandon Teena seven years ago, she immediately flew to Nebraska, camera in hand, with a journalist who was covering the story. After the trip Muska and her partner, Greta Olafsdottir, sat in their New York City apartment and pored over the investigative footage. Powerfully moved, they decided then and there to make a full-length documentary--the film that became The Brandon Teena Story, the newsreel counterpart to the Oscar-nominated drama Boys Don't Cry.

Without deep-pocketed financial backers and short of funds themselves, Muska and Olafsdottir maxed out their credit cards and let friends pay for some of their flights to Falls City, Neb.--Brandon's old stomping ground. There they gradually overcame a cool reception. "There was obviously a lot of gossip in town about who we were and what we were doing," Muska recalls of researching the crime in the tiny community of about 5,000 people.

Says Olafsdottir. "The amount of time we spent there made a huge difference when it came to getting people to trust us. We didn't just go in there, get a sound bite, and leave."

The pair made several long trips in the four years it took them to complete the documentary, building solid relationships with the townspeople and even eating dinner with their subjects. To uncover the events leading to Brandon's murder at the hands of Tom Nissen and John Lotter, they conducted 80 hours of interviews with the sheriff's department and the friends and families of those involved as well as several of Brandon's girlfriends--most of whom appear in the final film. According to Muska and Olafsdottir, a number of these women knew Brandon's secret yet continued to date him. But were they gay?

"For most of them, it was the first time it ever entered into their heads that they might possibly have sex with a woman," Muska explains. "They could accept the fact that Brandon was going to have a sex change and then they'd be with him forever and ever, but they couldn't be lesbians. They couldn't accept that."

But when the people around the girls found out Brandon's secret, "that's when the shit hit the fan," says Olafsdottir. The discovery led Nissen and Lotter to get drunk and rape and beat Brandon in a secluded wooded area.

The filmmakers--who are now at work on a documentary about women, genocide, and the use of rape as a tactic of war--did not set out to "to make a statement about who Brandon was," Muska says, "as much as how he was perceived. …

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